296 PAs, .268/.313/.507, 14 HR, 41 RBI, .820 OPS, 114 OPS+
When Pablo Sandoval’s free agency came around in 2014, he was something of a San Francisco Giants hero. A lovable, charismatic All-Star, who not only exuded joy while playing the game, but seemed to come through in the biggest moments.
Just 27, Sandoval already had been a starter on three championship teams, and was responsible for one of the most memorable performances in franchise history, when he smacked a trio of home runs in the 2012 World Series opener (two off of the aceiest of aces, Justin Verlander), en route to a World Series MVP award.
Any given game day in San Francisco featured a thousand or two panda hats, and as the team celebrated their third title in five years in front of City Hall, then-mayor Ed Lee implored Giants ownership to pay Sandoval whatever was necessary to keep him around.
Sandoval was, if not a baseball deity in San Francisco, then at least a pop star.
And then he opted to leave a team that had one a title a few months prior. Went across the country and bungled the public exit interviews as he left.
He was far from a villain, but no longer a beloved figure.
Then, after tripping down the stairs in Boston, Sandoval returned to the team he grew to be a star with.
It was a reclamation of sorts - the panda hats slowly started to speckle the stands - but it was far from a full fix. The Giants signed him more for the sake of sentimentality than production; Sandoval played poorly; and the team was truly horrific.
Enter 2019. when a new and modern front office still determined Sandoval was worth keeping on the roster (was this influenced by Bruce Bochy? Likely. But still.), and Sandoval rewarded them with a quality year as the team flirted with playoff contention.
It seems unlikely that we’ll see Sandoval wear a black and orange jersey again, except when returning to the park to celebrate the 2010, 2012, 2014 teams, and when popping into the broadcast booth to hang with the crew, and when riding down Market Street, arm around Heliot Ramos as the team celebrates its 2025 World Series victory.
But we’ll always have 2019, when Sandoval returned to the glowing graces of fans, in a way that wouldn’t have fully happened had the team cut him in spring training.
Role on the 2019 team
Sandoval opened the year as the backup corner infielder and pinch-hitter, there to give Evan Longoria a few days off, spell Brandon Belt if he dealt with injuries, and provide late game flexibility with a switch-hitting bat.
He played the role beautifully. At one point he was hitting so well that he was nearly being platooned with Longoria and, when Longo went down with an injury, Sandoval stepped right into the role of being an every day player.
But it was pinch-hitting where he truly shined. In 50 pinch-hit appearances, Sandoval went 18-48, with eight doubles, two home runs, and two walks, good for a slash line of .375/.400/.667.
His right-handed hitting return to form as well (in an admittedly small sample size of 52 plate appearances), as he hit .313/.353/.583 as a righty.
He was a weapon, plain and simple. He had his best batting average and on-base percentage since 2014, his best slugging percentage and OPS since 2011, and his best OPS+ since 2012. He was good.
And, perhaps as importantly, he was, by all accounts, a joy in the clubhouse, who kept tensions light, and helped Bochy ride off into the sunset.
Oh, and he played the important role of relief pitcher for the second year in a row. And his ERA is still 0.00.
Role on the 2020 team
Sandoval’s 2019 was cut short by injury, and he underwent Tommy John surgery in early September. He’ll miss a very good chunk of the 2020 season, if not all of it.
He’s also a free agent, and 33. And the Giants are in a mini-rebuild of sorts.
Translation: He’s unlikely to have a role on the 2020 team, or to be employed by the 2020 team. But don’t be surprised if he’s around the organization, as they may play a role in his rehab as a kind gesture.
How Farhan was Pablo Sandoval?
The Panda gets a grade of three Farhans, on a scale of one to four. That may seem like an awful lot, but note the language in the question: How Farhan was Sandoval?
In 2019, Sandoval was a very good hitter, who provided value from both sides of the plate. He played multiple positions defensively, and was comfortable playing a few more in a pinch. He was a great clubhouse guy, which Zaidi seems to care about more than people realize, and he cost the Giants just the league minimum.
Sandoval is unlikely to be very Farhan going forward, but getting quality production from a semi-versatile player, where no other team thought they could, for the closest thing to free?
Yeah, that’s pretty damn Farhan.